Let west coast have a say on Marble Mountain's future, says businessman

As the deliberations over possibly privatizing aspects of the Marble Mountain resort continue behind closed doors, one Corner Brook entrepreneur is bemoaning the lack of local voices and asking for change.

A request for proposals for the provincial government-owned, money-losing ski hill in Steady Brook closed in August. Since then, Tourism Minister Christopher Mitchelmore has declined to elaborate on the process beyond the fact that three proposals are being considered by a government-appointed board of directors.

That board — of the Marble Mountain Development Corporation, which also oversees the resort's daily operations — is composed entirely of civil servants based in St. John's.

"I'm asking the question, why are we not allowed to be involved in that process? Why is it happening behind closed doors?" said Jamie Fowlow, a longtime local businessman.

Bernice Hillier/CBC

Fowlow said he has asked another question to Mitchelmore, as well as Premier Dwight Ball and Corner Brook MHA Gerry Byrne — if Fowlow could join the board as a volunteer and provide local input.

"What seems to be missing is the perspective of the west coast. People who've grown up around Marble Mountain, who know what Marble Mountain means, that kind of thing. The stakeholders who are involved, are not involved," he said,

The answer? No, but that could be revisited once the proposals process wraps.

"It's too late then, once something is signed, sealed and done," Fowlow said.

The Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation told CBC in a statement that Mitchelmore does not appoint individuals to any provincial board or commission such as the Marble Mountain Development Corporation, but individuals may apply for openings, and such appointments are based on merit.

The statement said the interim board will remain in place, pending the outcome of the request for proposals process, which "is ongoing, and an update will be provided once the review is complete." 

Locals lacking

Fowlow isn't alone in his desire to have a say.

In April 2017, the provincial government sacked the majority of its 11-person board, which at that time included west coast representatives. Mitchelmore appointed an interim board of civil servants, which reopened the ski hill for a weekend of free skiing at Easter, a move which lost at least $10,000.

That half-full interim board continues to this day, despite constitutional bylaws which state local stakeholders must have seats: the town of Steady Brook, the City of Corner Brook, as well as the Marble Mountain Ski and Ride Club are all supposed to be represented.

All three of those entities have confirmed to CBC News they have requested their slots be filled to no avail.

Those bylaws also state six positions are to be made available to the general public, and Fowlow sees himself as more than up for the task, particularly when it comes to vetting RFPs.

Geoff Bartlett/CBC

"Im familiar with strategic planning, business plan development, analyzing things," he said.

"I'm not against development, I'm not against profit, I'm not against private operators. What I want to make sure is the best interests of the ski hill, the core of the whole thing, is protected for the people on the west coast."

The Marble Mountain Development Corporation dates back to 1988, when the province took over operations of the hill and invested heavily in infrastructure, a move which has cost untold millions of dollars.

The resort operates with the assistance of about $1-million is annual grants from the province. in the latest figures available, for its 2017-18 season, day lift tickets were down almost 14 per cent from the year before, with just over 59,000 skier visits.

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